Butler (left) has been on Whiz's radar (right) since he came to Arizona in 2007, Image Courtesy of azcentral.com

Keith Butler: Still Playing the Waiting Game with the Steelers

Butler will be returning for his 10th season as the Steelers' LB Coach, Image Courtesy of post-gazette.com

As I discussed in my last post, legendary Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau will be returning to the Steel City in 2012.  In the spirit of continuity and the yearly reading of “T’was the Night Before Christmas” (kudos Dave), the move itself makes sense.

Nevertheless, one of the first things which popped into my head when I read that LeBeau would be back in 2012 was the following: Will longtime Linebackers Coach & “D-Coordinator in Waiting” Keith Butler stay with the organization long enough to realize his chance to assume the Defensive Coordinator role?  Thus, I thought it would be nice to discuss Keith Butler’s career with the Steelers up to this point, why he is an ideal candidate for the job, and his current situation “playing the Waiting Game.”

Keith Butler: A Fantastic Resume (2003-Present):

If you were to list the Top 3 LB Coaches in the League right now, you’d be hard pressed to name two, if not one, that has done a better job than Keith Butler during his 9 seasons with the Steelers.

Butler has helped to develop and hone the skills of some of the N.F.L.’s most feared pass-rushers and overall LB’s during his tenure with the Steelers.  Pro Bowl OLB’s such as Joey Porter and LaMarr Woodley have developed into multiple 10.0+ Sack per season guys.  A former UDFA, OLB James Harrison won the D.P.O.Y. in 2008 and has terrorized opposing QB’s and opponents in general since assuming Porter’s old role in 2007.

Under Butler’s tutelage, late-round picks such as OLB Clark Haggans and ILB Larry Foote have enjoyed a measure of success while realizing their potential with hard work and their overall talent.  Lawrence Timmons made the switch from OLB at Florida State to ILB with the Steelers, and has developed into one of the League’s most complete Linebackers since making the switch in 2008.  Even then-veteran ILB James Farrior enjoyed his best seasons under Butler’s watch and made both of his Pro Bowls during that time.

Butler isn’t done however, and now OLB’s Jason Worilds and Chris Carter, along with ILB Stevenson Sylvester will assume to be the next group of “youngsters” ready to step up with Butler teaching them the “ins and outs” of their respective positions along the way.

The Steelers have always had a tradition of featuring some of the best overall Linebackers on their teams.  And with Butler in charge, the franchise hasn’t missed a step.  Whether they are 1st and 2nd Round studs, Middle Round (3-6) diamonds in the rough, or overlooked late bloomers (7-UDFA), Butler has illustrated a knack to get the most out of his guys and in turn establish himself as one of the best Linebackers Coaches in the League.  This job by Butler hasn’t gone unnoticed, as teams not named the Steelers have showed keen interest in prying Butler away to head their Defenses.

 

Butler’s Job Offers/Declines:

As I have stated before, Butler’s fantastic work in Pittsburgh has put him on the radar of many teams in search of Defensive Coordinators during the past few years.  Yet each and every job offer he has received or been in the running for, Butler has elected to stay with the Steelers and stood by their Front Office which has given him votes of confidence while he has played “The Waiting Game:”

During the 2009 offseason the Miami Dolphins were interested in offering their Defensive Coordinator job to Butler.  A 3-4 team with some solid talent to work with, Butler eventually told Miami “No” when they asked him to run their Defense.  The thought at the time was that Butler was going to be the Steelers’ future Defensive Coordinator when Dick LeBeau finally left.  In fact, the rumor was that the Steelers’ Front Office added a clause in his contract that he would be the “D-Coordinator in Waiting” to keep him on the staff.

While Miami tried to get Butler only once, the Arizona Cardinals have been barking up the “Butler Tree” for years.  With former Steelers coaches Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm in Arizona, Butler’s services have long been sought after by the pair.

Thankfully for the Steelers,  the organization has stood firm with regards to keeping Butler in Pittsburgh.  When the 2010 offseason rolled around, Pittsburgh did not  allow the Cardinals to even interview Butler regarding their vacant D-Coordinator position, and apparently it had something to do with his “D-Coordinator in Waiting” status according to the Arizona Republic’s Kent Somers.  And as of right now, it appears that all that stands between Butler and the Defensive Coordinator job is Dick LeBeau.

 

Conclusion:

Jobs in the N.F.L. are never “guaranteed,” and after a number of “meltdowns” and “dumpster fire” performances in the last couple of years due to strategy and other factors, the D-Coordinator job appears to be LeBeau’s for as long as he wants it.

Butler in my opinion though deserves his chance to take the reins in the near future.  He has waited patiently for his opportunity, turned down others, and the franchise itself has apparently given him a “thumbs up” with his “D-Coordinator in Waiting” tag.

Thus, I will look at this situation with LeBeau staying for 2012 from a “glass half-full” perspective, and simply be confident that LeBeau will not overstay his welcome and the well-credentialed Butler will eventually and take over in 2013 or 2014.  Butler knows the organization, can continue to work with the personnel already on the roster while in turn grooming more talent for years to come, and has a vote of confidence from the Front Office based on their supposed commitment to him.  Yet most importantly, you’ve gotta figure that if the guy has waited this long, he might be inclined to play “The Waiting Game” just a bit longer.

 

Now it’s time to hear your thoughts readers: Do you think LeBeau should bow out gracefully and let Butler take over?  Should Butler even be the next Defensive Coordinator?  Who instead should get the job after LeBeau?  Etc..

 

Follow me on Twitter (@DominicDiTolla)

 

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